H&B triumph after thrilling finish
Hastings & Bexhill Rugby Club produced a fabulous finish to book its place in the London & SE Junior Vase semi-finals.
Kent One leaders H&B scored 12 unanswered points in the last 10 minutes to turn a six-point deficit into a six-point victory at home to a Burgess Hill side lying fourth in Sussex One.
H&B's starting XV showed two changes from the previous weekend's league victory. Unavailable skipper Jimmy Adams was replaced in the second row by Dominic Sewell and Ben Campbell came in on the wing for the injured Ben Petty.
Burgess Hill were well-drilled, fast and possessed several big, strong forwards. The visitors, who played in London South East Three last season, took an early lead with a well-struck penalty awarded for an infringement at a ruck.
H&B immediately replied with a try from Tim Sills. Full-back Harry Walker made an exciting 50-metre break and put winger Sills away for a score under the posts. Bruce Steadman converted to give the home side a 7-3 lead.
Burgess Hill reduced their deficit to 7-6 with a drop goal, but H&B cranked up the pressure and scored two well-constructed tries.
John Hanagarth crossed the line to complete an excellent forwards' drive and Sills benefited from an amazing phase of handling across the pitch to go over in the corner.
On the stroke of half time Burgess Hill kicked a long penalty to make the score 17-9.
The second half had plenty of drama and excitement to entertain the large touchline crowd, but H&B were unable to deliver the knockout punch as Burgess Hill defended well and fought for every ball.
The H&B forwards were dealt a huge blow with two yellow cards in the space of a minute. Hanagarth was given 10 minutes on the sidelines for a late tackle - a harsh decision in the opinion of many spectators - and Paul Sandeman then suffered the same punishment for a deliberate knock on.
This put the home defence under great pressure and Burgess Hill took advantage with a converted try to make it 17-16.
H&B coach Chris Brooks reorganised his depleted side, with Adam Baker replacing Kit Claughton, Jake Stinson coming on for Campbell and Frazer McManus replacing Sandeman at the end of his sin-binning.
The disruption put Burgess Hill in the ascendancy and they scored a breakaway try, which was converted, to give them a 23-17 lead with only 10 minutes to play.
H&B did not panic, and settled to their task with even more determination and tenacity. Fly-half Steadman put up a long kick to the wing, and Sills chased hard and scored his hat-trick try in the corner to reduce the deficit to 23-22 with less than five minutes on the clock.
The H&B forwards notched up the pressure. They won the ball at a lineout to set up a slick backs' move which put Chaz Ackerley in the clear and he crashed over the line. Steadman converted and the referee called time.
The game answered many of the questions in the minds of the H&B supporters. The squad undoubtedly has strength in depth, the players are physically and mentally strong enough to overcome difficulties, and they have an overriding desire to win.
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